Celebrating women impact in engineering and technology
Who are the powerful women in tech of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries? The International Women's Day inspired a group of IT ladies to reflect on the roles of women in engineering and technology, celebrating their initiatives and ground-breaking achievements which left a permanent mark in the field.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) studied math and science, which was very unusual for an aristocratic Victorian girl of her time. Her mother believed that studying science would keep her from becoming "moody" like her father, the famed romantic poet Lord Byron. Lovelace proved to be very talented in mathematics, and so became a friend and tutor of Charles Babbage, whose “Analytical Engine”, although never fully operational, is considered as the first computer. It is while working on the notes for a lecture on the Engine that Lovelace developed an algorithm that is now considered the first purpose-built computer algorithm, making Lovelace the world’s first computer programmer. Her work goes beyond Babbage’s Analytical Engine, and she’s theorized on what we know today as neurobiology, electrical engineering and artificial intelligence.
- We wanted to look at the issue from a historical perspective, raise the awareness on women's contribution to ICT, and encourage them to pursue careers in engineering and STEM, rather than yield to the persuasion that these careers are not for women, said Aurelie Gracia-Garay of the international communications company Infobip. Backed by colleagues Ana Jergovic, Tina Loncaric and Petra Fonjak, she organized several programs which celebrated women in tech, in the week of the 8th of March. An exhibition honoring influential historical figures in ICT was prepared, as well as a discussion panel in which women engineers shared their career stories.
Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu (1987-1973) wasn't accepted to the School of Bridges and Roads in Romania capital Bucharest, due to bias against women in science. She was accepted by the Royal Academy of Technology in Berlin, Germany. Graduating in 1912, she was one of the first women engineers in the world. Some newspapers of that time hailed her success, envisioning a great future for women in engineering. She became an assistant at the Institute of Geology in Romania, lead several geological laboratories and major field studies, and taught physics and chemistry.
Margaret Heafield Hamilton (1936) was a 24-year-old mathematician when she started working at MIT. There she developed software for Edward N. Lorenz, the founder of chaos theory. With her colleagues, Hamilton laid the foundations of computer programming. She led the team of developers which prepared Armstrong’s flight to the Moon in 1969, and brought key advantage to the USA in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. Kimberly Bryant will be remembered for starting the Black Girls Code program, after realizing that her daughter was a double outsider, as a girl interested in coding, and as a black girl interested in coding. She decided to start a program in which her daughter would pursue her interest without facing isolation. Since then, several thousands of girls were educated in Black Girls Code.
Stories of modern-day engineers reveled in discussion panel were no less inspiring. During her teenage years, Anja Hula was a gamer, a computer lover and the go-to girl to install Windows on her friends PCs. She majored in Math and Software Engineering and Information Systems. After graduating she joined the “super tech team” at Infobip and advanced into a Team Leader, one of the very few women in her department.
- If I hadn’t asked, and if my teachers hadn’t devoted extra time, I would never had learned to code, Anja said. Leda Link is in software testing. She believes IT and coding should be taught already in elementary school. That way girls and boys could gain an understanding of ICT from a younger age. It would place our next generation in a better position, making them more curious about engineering and IT.
Nina Knezevic is Director of Telecom Solutions at Infobip and feels that knowledge and talent should always speak for itself.
- I’ve been working in the mobile industry for a good number of years, and it is still uncommon to see a woman carrying out negotiations or heading large business deals. On a global level, I am mostly working with men. For me, the most important thing is to be an expert in my field, meet deadlines and deliver stellar results. Weather you are a woman or a man shouldn’t really make a difference, she said.
In well-paid coding and engineering fields, women often occupy less than 20 percent of jobs, and are sometimes paid less for the same position they hold. The infamous “glass ceiling” has been broken by several high-profile C-level executives such as Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer, Susan Wojcicki, Ginny Rometty or Mary Barra, leading some of the iconic brands in tech or automotive industries. Whether we should view them as exceptions to the rule or heralds of change depends on the perspective, but they are proof that there is space for women in top positions in top firms.
According to GSMA, world's major governing body of telecoms, this year's Mobile World Congress had less than 25 percent of women visitors. In 2015, the share of women visitors stood at only 18 percent.